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Lewis and Clark
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Historic Sites and Buildings

National Historic Landmark Camp Disappointment

Location (approximate): Glacier County, on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, along the south bank of Cut Bank Creek just above the junction of Trail Coulee, about 12 miles northeast of Browning and some 6 miles due north of the Great Northern Railroad and U.S. 2. Access is only possible from the latter by a primitive road that runs northward at the point just west of a monument to Lewis and Clark. The monument is about 22 miles west of the city of Cut Bank and is situated several hundred yards north of the highway. Make local inquiry.

One of the key sites associated with the Lewis contingent on the eastbound journey, during which it investigated the northern extent of the Missouri River drainage at the behest of President Jefferson, this was the northernmost camp established by the expedition and was not far west of the point on Cut Bank Creek that was the most northerly point attained. Lewis, Drouillard, and the Field brothers bivouacked at this place in the period July 22-26, 1806. Lewis apparently named the camp to express his discouragement over the cloudy and overcast weather that prevailed throughout the stay and prevented him from obtaining a good astronomical fix to determine the exact location—though he remained longer than he intended and considered safe.

Lewis had planned to take along six men on the Marias River exploration, but the theft of seven horses by Indians near the Great Falls of the Missouri required him to reduce the number to three, who consisted of the best woodsmen of the expedition. This group took six steeds and left four with Sergeant Gass and his five men, who were later to unite at the falls with Sergeant Ordway and his nine personnel from Clark's party, make the portage around the falls, and set out to meet Lewis at the mouth of the Marias.

Monument to Meriwether Lewis
Monument to Meriwether Lewis, along Highway U.S. 2 about 22 miles west of Cut Bank, Mont. The northernmost point reached by the expedition lies a few miles farther north. The mountains in the background are in Glacier National Park. (National Park Service (Mattison, 1958).)

On July 16 Lewis and his three companions, ever on the alert, set out from the falls into the Blackfeet heartland. Two days later, they arrived at the Marias about 60 miles from its mouth. Finding on July 21 that the river forked into Cut Bank Creek on the north and Two Medicine River on the south, Lewis moved about 28 miles up Cut Bank Creek. The next day at 48°40' N. he established Camp Disappointment in a clump of large cottonwood trees on a spacious and beautiful bottom. Reconnaissance indicated that the northernmost reaches of the Marias system had been attained and that Blackfeet were in the area. Rainy and cloudy weather prevented any astronomical observations.

Long Camp site
Camp Disappointment. (National Historic Landmarks collection.)

The group broke camp on the morning of the 26th to return to the Missouri. The next day, the party encountered eight Blackfeet and camped overnight with them. The following morning, the Indians jumped Lewis and his men, who killed two of their adversaries and managed to escape, later meeting the Gass-Ordway party along the Missouri.

The site of Camp Disappointment, on privately owned land in the Blackfeet Reservation, is in an area that is still almost as primitive as when Lewis and his companions saw it. The terrain consists of rough and broken country, of coulees and plain; the only trees are located along creeks and rivers. An occasional small ranch building, some grazing, and jeep and dirt roads are the only evidence of human activity. The Rockies are visible about 20 miles to the west.

Last Updated: 22-Feb-2004